One of the great joys of reading J.R.R. Tolkien's work is reading him aloud. Nowhere is this clearer than in the first story in "Tales from the Perilous Realm," a new compilation of Tolkien's smaller works.
In "Roverandum," Tolkien tells the story of a lost toy dog that has fantastic adventures - a story he told to his young son. It is among the treasures that are now collected in one volume.
Included is an excellent introduction by St. Louis University's Tolkien scholar Professor Tom Shippey, solid prologues, and a conclusion written by well-known Tolkien artist Alan Lee, who illustrates the book.
Tolkien started creating his universe as early as his teens. His first mention of fairies was in 1910 when Tolkien was 18 and still at Birmingham's King Edward's School. Five years later he was sent to France and wounded in the trench warfare of World War I.
By the end of 1917, Tolkien, recovering in a military hospital, had sketched out much of the background for Middle Earth's history, the very rich background behind the classic fantasy tales of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit."
Over the next 30 years Tolkien wrote, rewrote, reworked, added to, subtracted from and occasionally published outtakes of his fictional universe. By day he was the Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, but at night his fertile mind was constructing novellas, short stories and poems for his children, grandchildren and publishers.
In 1939, Tolkien gave a lecture on the nature of fairy stories, a topic he expanded on in a 1945 essay "On Fairy-stories." In Tolkien's vision of "Faerie," there were no candy-colored winged dancing elves small enough to fit in tulips such as were common in Victorian England. His "Faerie" was "a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold. ... In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them."
Tolkien's Elves were grim warriors with tall spears and tragic tales of lost love, greed and despair.
On a lighter note, also in the anthology, is "Farmer Giles of Ham," a short story that skewers heroic dragon-slaying classics. "Smith of Wootton Major" is more traditionally a "Faerie" story with a magical star and traveler lost in forbidden realms. "Leaf by Niggle" is about a painter.
Fans of the "Lord of the Rings" will find its 16 poems interesting. When they were first printed together in 1962, Tolkien puts them within the context of the popular "Rings" trilogy saying, for example, that the poem "The Sea-Bell" was written by the tormented hero Frodo Baggins and others by last ring-bearer Sam Gamgee.
Compiled in one place, with new illustrations from Alan Lee, "Tales from the Perilous Realm" will be enjoyed by any Tolkien reader.